We need to move beyond ‘High Performing Teams’

I need to start by apologizing. For many years I have written about the importance of high performing teams, created models of them and written and taught about how to lead, coach, and develop them (Hawkins 2011, 2014, 2017, 2018). Over the last two years I have woken up to how, like nearly all writers about teams and team coaching, I was caught in what is an out-dated paradigm. I now believe that the term is not only beyond its sell by date but is problematic and leading team development and team coaching in the wrong direction.

There are four ways that I see that the term causes problems.

A mechanistic rather than a living organism metaphor

High performing teams is a concept that grew out of 20th century mechanistic linear thinking. High performance was a term used for manufacturing machinery, or cars that could accelerate fast from stand still to 60mph. It was about achieving greater productivity and efficiency out of a fixed system, so that it creates more, faster, and cheaper. High performance is unconcerned about whether what is produced is of beneficial value. It is focussed on efficiency rather than creating benefit for all stakeholders.

Sub-optimisation

Some teams I have worked with over the years have been motivated to be the ‘best team on the block’, the standout region in their company. When they have succeeded they have often done this at the cost of other parts of the organisation and not through creating benefit for the whole organisation and all its stakeholders Their achievement has been built on by being the most successful at gleaning joint resources, such as marketing, HR, sales support; and the least willing to share knowledge and to second staff when other teams and regions were struggling. The team member’s loyalty has been to their local team. not the rest of the organisation.                                                                                         

A Place of arrival and a tick-box exercise.

For some teams, becoming a high performing team is the next thing on their development agenda. Last year it was becoming a ‘Lean organisation’, the year before decentralization and empowerment. They ask me: “What are the top things we need to do to be a high performing team?” They want help with creating a check list, that they can tick off, step by step. Often team leaders request a clear timetabled plan and ‘Gant chart’ including a date and place of arrival. But team development is not a pre-planned journey you can buy off the shelf. Being a successful team is never a place of arrival. As Bill Gates wrote: “Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can’t lose.” A team that thinks it is now ‘A High Performing team’ often slips into complacency and arrogance. Successful teams and organizations are often the last to notice the world is changing around them.

Claiming the success as your own

Let me tell you an imaginary story, that could come true in the very near future.

It is a future gathering of the top team at ZoomThey have just received the annual performance figures for the organization and are celebrating a record year. Revenue, profits, and reputation have all risen sharply. In the midst of the champagne toasts, and congratulations echoing around the room, one team member says, “I think we should pause and thank the team member who made the biggest contribution to our record success. A team member who only joined us this year.” She is greeted by blank and questioning faces. The CEO eventually says: “Who are you talking about? The reply comes: “Corona Virus.” There is a stunned and awkward silence

All evolution is co-evolution all development is co-development and all success is co-created.

The success is co-created between a team and its wider organization, between the organization and its business eco-system, between a species and ecological niche. All evolution is co-evolution – a species and the niche co-adapt and respond to each other – so does a team and its context.

 High Value creating teams

To move from an outdated mechanistic concept of teams, we need to find concepts and models rooted in systemic and organismic ways of seeing the world; approaches built on collaboration and co-adaptability, rather than competition and sub-optimisation of parts of the larger system. We need team development that is part of creating a wider ‘team of teams’ as Genera McCrystal discovered while leading the Allied forces to try and create sustainable peace in post war Iraq and finding they were constantly out manoeuvred (McCrystal et al 2015).

We need to support and coach teams that can ‘continuously co-create beneficial value with and for all their stakeholders’, both human, and the ‘more-than-human’ stakeholders of the wider ecological environment, which is always the largest contributor to all human success.

What is beneficial value? That which improves quality of life, diversity, well-being, and sustainability, at all the nested systemic levels that our life is living and breathing within.

I again apologise for taking so long to move away from writing about high performing teams and promise my next books will be about the practical ways we can create and sustain high value creating teams.

References

Hawkins, P. (2011, & 2014 & 2017) Leadership Team Coaching: Developing Collective Transformational Leadership. London: Kogan Page.

Hawkins, P. (2014 and 2018). Leadership Team Coaching in Practice; Developing High Performing Teams. Philadelphia: Kogan Page Publishers.

McChrystal, S., Collins, T., Silverman, D. and Fussell, C. (2015). Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World. New York: Penguin. 

Professor Peter Hawkins June 2020

Peter Hawkins will be running the next face to face Systemic Team Coaching certificate December 15th -17th in London. Meanwhile AoEC have places left on the Systemic Team Coaching taught by Peter’s colleagues as a 3 day virtual replacement program from 21-23 July 2020 – for full details for both trainings and to book a place, click here.

The Global Team Coaching Institute led by Peter Hawkins and David Clutterbuck, is about to launch the second level Practitioner program starting in October. Peter will be leading the Systemic Team Coaching course with a global faculty of his most senior colleagues. For full details contact Kirsten@wbecs.com

My next Blog I will publish next weekend 12th July on “We are all in this together: Coronavirus, Climate Emergency, Collaboration and Consciousness Change.”

There are more blogs and other free resources on https://www.renewalassociates.co.uk



13 Crackers for Systemic Team Coaches December 2019

Introduction

Last year I produced 13 one-liners on Systemic Team Coaching that the various people who had trained with me from many places in the world had found most helpful. I created them as paradoxical messages that would stimulate new thinking and invited readers to imagine each as a message in a Christmas cracker. (For those of you not familiar with this tradition, a cracker is a tubular package that you pull open with a “bang” at the Christmas dinner table. Inside is a small present, paper hat and a joke or motto.)  Christmas is a time of tradition and ritual – so here are 2019’s new Systemic one-liners.

  1. Treat every difficulty as your next teacher sent from the wider system
    Our choice is either to view difficult coachees, colleagues, bosses, organizations as problems to battle against, or as people who we have not yet found a way of connecting with and who thus present our next life lesson.
  2. If you fill the meeting room with the voices of the stakeholders there is less room for egos
    As human beings we tend to be self-obsessed and take things personally, which builds defensive egos. If we focus on what the future and our stakeholders need from us and bring their voices into the room, there is far less space for egos and personal conflict.
  3. ABC of team coaching – Always Be Contracting
    Thank you to my colleague John Hill from Northern Ireland who taught me this phrase – contracting is not something we do just at the beginning of relationship or start of a meeting – it is something we need to constantly attend to.
  4. Systemic Team Coaching does not end – the prime responsibility just transitions from the team coach to our partners in the team coaching, – the team leader and the team members
    As teams have to continually develop their collective capacity and agility responding to ever-changing contexts, systemic team coaching will always be necessary.  The job of the external team coach is to work with the team so they can gradually take over the full responsibility for coaching themselves.
  5. Get every voice into the meeting within the first three minutes
    If the coach talks too long at the beginning it becomes a seminar; if the team leader talks too long it becomes a briefing meeting.
  6. Team members are more likely to own the agreed ways forward when they have been part of creating them
    People don’t resist change; they resist being changed. The role of the team leader is to frame the challenges and then orchestrate the team members to co-create the ways of responding.
  7. How you say something non-verbally is more important than the words
    Learning good team coaching questions and other interventions is not just about the words but about the tonality, look and embodied way we deliver it.
  8. Always locate the challenge, problem or conflict in a relationship, not in a person or a part of the system
    All real challenges are relational.
  9. Turn blame statements into requests and negative injunctions to positive encouragements
    One of the most frequent interventions we need to do as team coaches is to interrupt blame statements, whether about another member of the team, or external stakeholder, and invite the person to turn the complaint into a request and/or curious inquiry.
  10. Avoid bullet point lists that fragment the challenge into lists of problems.
    Instead create mind maps, virtuous and vicious cycles and other methods that show the patterns of interconnection.
  11. As soon as we talk about ‘the system’ we stop seeing systemic interconnections because we have drawn a fixed boundary where none exist
    Pay attention to the dance between the many systemic levels.
  12. Wide-angled empathy is not just for the people in the team but for all the team’s stakeholders
    The team coach needs to have compassion and empathy for all team members but also for all the wider stakeholders of the team (an themselves).
  13. There is no such thing as a high performing team, only a team that continuously co-creates value with and for all its stakeholders
    High performance is not a place of arrival, but is always in service of continually co-creating value with and for all our stakeholders, including people, systems and the more-than-human world. Therefore, high performance cannot reside within the team’s boundaries, or be owned by the team.

Happy Christmas, Hanukah, Solstice, Dōngzhì Festival, Yuletide, Saturnalia, or December holidays to all my friends, colleagues and Blog followers everywhere.

Peter Hawkins 15 December 2019 ©Renewal Associates 2019

I will be running Systemic Team Coaching 3-day intensives in 2020: January in New York, April in Beijing and India, July in Vancouver Island, Canada and London, October in Lisbon, November in Serbia and Romania.  Also we have Advanced Retreats for Coaches and Team Coaches during June and September and Transformational Coaching in December, all in Bath, UK.
www.renewalassociates.co.uk and www.aoec.com.



13 Crackers for Systemic Team Coaches

Introduction

Several of the systemic team coaches I supervise and work with in America, said that one of the most powerful parts of the training they had done with me was the memorable one-liners that I ‘peppered’ throughout the training.  They suggested I brought these together in a collection.  Another member of the supervision group suggested I asked my supervisees to all send in ‘the one-liners they found most helpful’.  From this I have developed the following.  I hope you enjoy them and find them helpful.  Imagine each as a message in a Christmas cracker, which for those of you not familiar with this tradition, is something that you pull open at the dinner table and inside is a small present, paper hat and a joke or motto.

  1. The team does not create the purpose, the purpose creates the team
    The best research on effective teams, shows that the most important element is having a joint team purpose that everyone recognises and can only be achieved through the team collaborating effectively together. I used to work hard helping teams create their purpose, now I realise I have to help them discover their purpose – as the purpose is already out there in their business eco-system and in the future needs of their stakeholders, waiting for the team to respond.
  2. Explore ‘future back’ and ‘outside in’
    To discover the evolving team purpose, we need to explore with the team both what the future is going to require them to step up to and what their key stakeholders are requiring now and in the future.
  3. Life sets the agenda
    Traditionally coaching emphasises being on the client’s agenda. Systemic coaching proposes that we should be neither on the client’s or the coach’s agenda but focusing on what life is requiring both parties to work on together.
  4. Never know better, never know first
    Traditional coaching also talks about leaving our experience outside the door, but I argue the clients need all of us to be engaging with their issues, but we should never know better and never know first, but once we have enabled their creative thinking, we should bring our own thinking alongside, dialogically creating new thinking, neither they or we had previously thought.
  5. Don’t tell, don’t ask: Frame the challenge, orchestrate the response
    Both Leaders and coaches, often switch between a directive ‘telling’ style and an eliciting ‘asking’ style. Team Coaches whether they be leaders coaching their own team, or external team coaches, help frame the collective challenge and then orchestrate and enable the team to respond creatively and collaboratively.
  6. Destination precedes design
    Before you can design the orchestrating and enabling process, you need to know where you and the team need to arrive by the end of the journey. Without knowing the possible destination(s) you cannot chose what vehicles you will need to get there.
  7. Start every session with purpose and outcome of this session.
    Every coaching session needs to start with some contracting to discover the joint purpose of the meeting and to explore what we need to collectively achieve together by the end.
  8. Quickly get the team on the stage with you as the animator in the wings
    neither you or them in the audience
    Team coaches can fall into the trap of creating a new hub and spoke configuration, with themselves on stage. A good Systemic Team Coach quickly gets the team actively engaged doing the work, but then stays alongside them supporting, challenging, nudging, enabling the best work possible. As part of this the coach needs to get the team to talk to each other directly and not via the coach.
  9. Coach the connections (internally and externally) not the individuals in front of the team
    Avoid coaching or commenting on individuals in front of the team, rather focus on the connection between team members and between the whole team and their stakeholders.
  10. Locate the conflict or problem in a connection/relationship not in a person or part of the system
    The first rule of conflict is to locate the issue in a connection not in a person or part of the system
  11. No such thing as an impossible boss, difficult team member, un-coachable team, just a mode of engagement we have not yet found.
    I often say this may not be true, but it is a great way to start every day, for it interrupts the ‘blame game’ where we and teams locate the problem in someone else or another part of the system. It encourages everyone to bring it back to what it is I and we can do?
  12. Design and prepare for every session but when you start be unattached to your plans.
    They say you can judge a good film by how much is left behind on the cutting room floor. Good team coaching is similar.  The preparation is important for the coach to be able to hold in mind all the many levels of the system and possible ways of approaching the team’s challenges, but when the session starts one needs to be open to what emerges in the team and between you and the team.
  13. Have fun, be creative and partner with ruthless compassion
    Team coaching is at its best when the team and the coach are enjoying it, but also when both know they are stepping up to the challenges life is presenting, and they are creating value for others as well as themselves.

 

Peter Hawkins December 2018 

Happy Christmas, Hanukah, Solstice, Dōngzhì Festival, Yuletide, Saturnalia, or December holidays.

 

I will be running Systemic Team Coaching 3-day intensives in 2019 in New York, Sydney, Beijing, Tokyo, Lisbon, Johannesburg, London, Montreal, Vancouver Island, Bucharest.  www.renewalassociates.co.uk. and www.aoec.com.